Asset sale may occur before Waitangi Tribunal report - Key

DANYA LEVY AND KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 11:05 31/07/2012

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Prime Minister John Key is not ruling out the Government proceeding with the sale of Mighty River Power before the Waitangi Tribunal makes its final recommendation on Maori water rights.

In an interim report, the tribunal yesterday called on the Government to hold off on the sale until the issue is resolved.

The first of the Government's controversial partial asset sales is due to go ahead in the last quarter of this year, but the tribunal's full report is not due until September.

Key today said the Government would take advice on the interim report from Treasury and Crown Law, and would consider the non-binding recommendations in good faith.

As agreed, it would also talk to its support partner, the Maori Party, although their responses would not necessarily be the same.

''We'll go through the process but in time we'll come back with what our next step is,'' he told TV3's Firstline programme. ''So that could be before a final recommendation, it might not be.''

Labour leader David Shearer said it was looking unlikely the asset sales would go ahead this year.

"This is a shambles that is continuing to just role on, the Government is going to have real problems in getting its asset sales programme out in the amount of time its got available to it."

And whatever happened would cost the taxpayer, he said.

"The Government has allowed this to happen, these court costs would not be around if we had decided not to sell the assets."

However Key earlier would not be drawn on whether shares in Might River Power would now go on sale next year.

''I'm not sure it would be terribly helpful for me to speculate on that.''

The tribunal had delivered the Government a ''decision point'', he said.

''The respectful way of dealing with that process is not to try to relitigate those things, the Government's made its feelings very clear on that and we stand by those previous statements.

"But we also now have a requirement to go and assess what they've said to us and what they believe should happen next and give a genuine and thoughtful response.''

The Government has said Maori had rights and interests to water but didn't own water.

Key later told reporters the Government could chose to ignore the interim report.

"We can, but we are also going to go through a proper and professional process now."

The prime minister would not put a timeframe on how long it would take the Government to respond.

It was highly predictable that someone would go to the tribunal with a water rights claim, he said.

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"There's no shock here in anything we've seen."

The Government would meet with the Maori Party early next week.

The tribunal's findings follow an urgent claim from the Maori Council that Maori had rights over freshwater and the partial sale of state-owned energy companies would hamper their ability for redress.

The council said it would fight the matter all the way to the Supreme Court.

The tribunal's interim report called for maintenance of the status quo, saying the sale of shares could cause significant disadvantage claimants.

''Given Treaty rights of a proprietary nature have been found to exist in specific freshwater bodies in previous tribunal reports, the Crown has acknowledged that Maori do have rights in freshwater generally, and New Zealand's Court of Appeal has left open to question the nature and extent of such rights and interests; these issues warrant serious inquiry.''

The interim report followed a two-week urgent hearing at Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt this month.

- Stuff

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